Sunday, December 3, 2006

Worship At Bethlehem

Today I've finally fulfilled a 10-year-long dream of worshipping at Bethlehem Baptist church, Minneapolis. Candy warned me that the worship is special but I was not prepared for the Hindi song "Bhajo Naam" led by Aradhana, a trio playing sitar, guitar and violin. They were sitting on the floor, wearing Indian traditional clothes. It was so beautiful... Then follows a potent mix of hymns and choruses - leader Sam Crabtree bringing out treasures new and old.

Later I found out that Aradhana was there to create awareness about problems of child trafficking and prostitution in India. I think that speaks a lot about the church's commitment to racial diversity/harmony and missions to all nations.

Vai Meng (and his Mom) showed warm hospitality in an otherwise big (could be impersonal to newbie?) church. But I had fun at the book room, got Frame's Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (USD 22) and borrowed Erickson's Systematic theology home to finish my reading assignment. Dean was helpful to get me registered even though I'm not a church member, a great amount of trust in a visitor eh?

I got to know about the church and Pastor John Piper after reading the wildly popular and God-centered book Desiring God some years back (it's free online!)

The combination of an infectious passion for God with a robust evangelical theology seems like a much needed antidote to the prevalent, 'shallow' preaching and 'barren', dry intellectualism. Many times I'd find my heart welling up with worship, pausing to marvel at the profound vision of God's glory laid out in its pages, grateful tears roll down to find my deepest longing is quenched (and expanded!) by God's sovereignty.

So began a deepening friendship through the written word with the author...

The notion that God is supremely happy in His triune self is further developed in "The Pleasures Of God" in the sweep of creation, redemption and consummation of all things. It was given rigorous, scholarly exegetical treatment in "Justification of God" in which Piper sought to answer all known objections in Romans 9. (ya, Piper was a biblical professor before he became a pastor)

This is no esoteric, selfish idea however. "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in all that He is" can be applied to a wide plethora of life...

In "Let The nations be glad", Piper applies it to mission for all people groups, tat the glory of God will cover the nations as the waters cover the sea. It involves christians enchanted with God's greatness to encompass others in this gladness as well, thereby expanding it. It's immense incentive to selfless, suffering mission.

That probably explains the church planting, missionary-sending, racial diversity instincts in Bethlehem baptist.

In "Future grace", Piper traces how it impacts our discipleship, being set apart to be holy and more like Christ. He argues that we are motivated to obey God's commands not by gratitude, to repay God... (although that is powerful) but because we trust in God's future promises that for those who obey, His grace would outweigh all possible sacrifice and loss.

In "The Supremacy of God thru preaching" I discover about the high calling of a preacher's task, week in week out, not to be a dispenser of self help advice, but to lay before the congregation a clear 'seeing' and heartfelt 'savoring' of God himself

While controversy rages over the errorneous teaching that God does not exhaustively know the future (open theism), I saw with admiration the irenic courage and exegetical prowess with which Piper confronted Greg Boyd at Bethel College. Never once did his opponent find his personal dignity demeaned in that debate. He was respectful and patient in listening to Boyd's views even though he strongly believed tat denial of full, divine foreknowledge detracts from God's glory as God. It showed me how to disagree agreeably.

Then, thru "Biblical Manhood and Womanhood", I was introduced to something called gender roles. It's not something i was interested in then, since I thot biblical teachings about male leadership in church or family is a cultural thing that is no longer binding. But then, wat about homosexuality then? Is tat cultural too? Again, I find a complementarian vision of gender roles not only takes the Bible seriously, but it is also existentially fulfilling and attractive. It is satisfying to live in a creational order that honors equal worth to male and female, yet play different complementing role as a man in relation with others.

As time went by, I found him to be a reliable guide. There were other contributions like the annual biographies on Christian heroes of the past, continuation of spiritual gifts, sexual purity, TULIP, poetry writing etc... was pleasantly amazed to find out that he is post-trib, premillenial in eschatology too!

It seems that the only things I'd disagree with him would be on the war in Iraq, divorce/remarriage and TV watching.

For now, I must wait a couple of weeks before he returns from UK. In the meantime, Marvin Wong has the unenviable task of having to occassionally preach to Piper! hehe... tension, man...

Let me end with his testimony of a defining moment in Piper's life, which lays out his philosophy in ministry:

In essence it happened like this: I was 34 years old. I had two children and a third on the way. As I studied Romans 9 day after day, I began to see a God so majestic and so free and so absolutely sovereign that my analysis merged into worship and the Lord said, in effect, "I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded. It is not grist for the mill of controversy, it is gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will."

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